Tag Archives: technology

Not all Innovation is High-Tech. Not all High-Tech is Innovation.

To borrow an old punchline, sometimes companies innovate around technology ‘because they can’.*

A recent visit to the Hertz facility at the Denver airport illustrates the point – – innovation can only work when it is designed around the user experience.  Innovation that requires the user to adapt to technology, at the expense of experience, is not usually a blueprint for success.

My key car rental criteria are price, convenience and how fast I can get my car. At the counter, I preemptively say I don’t need an upgrade, don’t need insurance, and will fill it up myself. I also tell them they’re on the clock and my personal record is out the door in 3 minutes (although I had a wonderful 1:30 experience just this past week). It works, and it’s not nearly as jerky as it sounds. (really)

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So I was eager to experience the Denver Airport Hertz facility, which is huge (2500 s.f.) and bristling with open format desks, high-tech kiosks, and bumblebee-colored employees. The car rental facility of the future, right?  I’d be out of there in no time.

It was a disaster.  First, 25 minutes in a standard Disney-style winding line; then left the line and went to the separate line for a kiosk on the recommendation of a Hertz employee.  10 minutes to get to one of the kiosks, which needed assistance to operate.  The disembodied head on the kiosk video screen informed me that while I had a reservation, my car would not be available for at least another 30 minutes.  Except, of course, if I wanted to upgrade (at extra cost).  (we’ve seen this before)

I got mad and tracked down a manager, who finally gave me an upgraded vehicle without the upcharge (duh).  That was 45 minutes of hell in a facility that was presumably built on research and smart engineering.

The expensive technology and fancy building did nothing to help this experience.  The difficulties I had (kiosk operation, being held hostage for an upgrade) were resolved with the human touch.  The same human touch that gets me in-and-out of low-tech counters in under 5 minutes (often with a high-five to the counter person).Hertz charging

(Perhaps I should have thought more when I passed the cute ‘recharge’ station – under what conditions would you be using one of these at a car rental place?!).

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On the other hand, a recent Delta flight showed how smart innovation made the experience much better.  This was on a newly refurbished plane.

The overhead compartments had signs asking passengers to load their rolling bags vertically rather than horizontally, which gets more bags on the plane, and therefore keeps me from gate-checking.  Smart!  I win!

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Facing me on the bottom of the seat in front was an electrical outlet. I’ve seen these before but they’ve been awkwardly placed in a hard to reach place around my ankles, presenting the constant danger of feeling up my seat mate’s leg.

In both situations there was an outlet on each seat.  Delta figured out it’s better when you can see it.  Smart! I win again!

Technology has transformed our world and has fueled amazing innovation.  But this innovation has only worked when it has improved the user’s experience.  

Technology with no benefit is usually not lasting.

*it’s a guy joke.  If you don’t know it already, you probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

Google Glass: Half Empty or Half Full?

The last few days have seen a mini-avalanche of commentary about Google Glass, a wearable ‘augmented reality heads-up display’, hotly anticipated for a late 2013 launch (at around $1500).  As an early indicator of potential social impact, there are quite a few spoofs already out there.  But what is it, and what are we to make of it?  I will confess that I started out a skeptic (more on that later) but am now warming to the idea — but that it still has a ways to go.GoogleGlass

The simplest way to describe the benefit of Google Glass is that it’s a way to get the benefits of various functions of a smartphone, without the disruption of a smartphone — mainly the need to use hands and divert attention to look at a screen.  This headset will allow user-perspective photos, videos, maps and short visual messages, all voice-controlled.

An excellent short slideshow about Google Glass functionality can be found here.

Google has released a video showing fabulous user experiences being recorded:  hot-air balloon flight, trapeze, onstage at the ballet, stunt pilot, skydiving, roller coaster, etc.

Exciting but a little breathless – – like the old joke about the little girl who wants feminine hygiene products for her birthday because they will let her ride horses and go to the beach like in the commercials – – most of the excitement is from the activities, not the device.

Another more (literally) pedestrian video shows a guy walking around Manhattan, continuously taking care of business using Google Glass heads-up info, seemingly enjoying his surroundings (cue gratuitous dog interaction) while simultaneously (and impressively) managing to not fall into a manhole.

This video was more interesting: it showed how it would feel to be continually engaged with the device – – but the texting-while-driving argument seems relevant here – – can we safely (and do we want to) ignore our surroundings as we focus on interacting with a device?

Google Glass has some obvious disadvantages.  It is still a little space-age nerdy (although talks are apparently in the works with RayBan, Warby Parker and others), and still likely subject to the frailties of technology (dropped signals, etc).  It also seems to have the capacity to depersonalize interpersonal human interaction when one (or both) parties are assisted by (and perhaps secretly distracted by) the unseen notes popping up in their heads-up display.

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On the other hand, Google Glass embodies the remarkable promise of current hi-tech innovation.  Rather than require humans to adapt to technology (think about having to learn DOS commands), it strives to adapt technology to natural human behavior to make life more functional and interesting.  By this measure, Google Glass, by removing the need to constantly manipulate a phone, succeeds in creating a big vision – – but the big question still remains – – who is going to want to wear this thing?